Necessary Evil??

I want to write today about the 300lb Gorilla that none of us really wants to talk about. I'm talking about the people we use to find new jobs. As you may be aware I closed down IntraDynamics, LLC (well, I have greatly curtailed my company's offerings),and got a new job (at Answers Systems, Inc.)

I was "exchanging notes" with my new boss regarding the process and discovered some things (none of this is surprising, but you may want to think about it next time you are pursuing a new job).

I had two recruiters that were aware of my interview process with Answers. One was the company who placed me and the other was a company I trusted (in the past) who appeared to be working hard to place me somewhere else (even asking about where I was in the process with Answers). In fact I was actually told that Answers (who offered me a job in less than a week) was slow in their hiring process. All this makes sense (the other recruiting company was trying to get the fees for me and wanted to do the placement with Answers, so they needed me out of the way). They inappropriately asked Answers about me.

There's that side of things. The other is that it took a long time to get my deal finalized (almost another week). Why? Recruiter placement fees. Now mind you there was a slight change in things with me (I went from "contract to hire" to just "hire"). The company wanted as much as 35% of my yearly salary for placing me (now mind you it wasn't because they did a great job finding me, etc.. they were in the right place at the right time).

To be honest all Answers needed was someone else to pre-screen candidate's technical abilities. All that the placement firm did was monitor Monster.com and send out an email. There were a few additional things they did (like call me everyday regardless of whether there was new info or not).

I don't mean to be trashing on someone (that's why I left the company names out), but I was in shock of the fees they wanted to collect. My boss, Perry, and I started talking about what would be better.

Eric Wise' idea of having a computer programmers trade association seems like a good idea. We would pay dues, but the organization would allow us to take tests and "prove" our abilities (or at least allow it to be easier to pre-screen applicants). Maybe there would also be a mechanism for referring.

I've been thinking about this. We could do it now you know. We could set up a site to create the organization. There would need to be a set of testing sub sites (maybe you would only be allowed to test every 6 months or every year). When the companies we work for are looking for people we could simply look in the organizations site to see who is currently available and match up test thresholds to what we are looking for. We could then refer these folks to our companies avoiding the whole recruiting industry.

Maybe I'm just dreaming...
Print | posted on Friday, May 09, 2008 3:30 PM

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# re: Necessary Evil??

left by Tom Clarkson at 5/11/2008 8:26 PM Gravatar
I don't think a trade association is something that will work in the forseeable future - it's just too different from the way our industry works now. You have people who can pass tests and get qualifications but are completely useless on real projects, and at the same time some of the best developers don't bother sitting tests so are completely unqualified on paper.

That said, the problem is solvable, and my startup is working on it. Of course, I do have the small issue of having to hire a development team before making the hiring process work better.

# re: Necessary Evil??

left by Jay Kimble at 5/11/2008 11:12 PM Gravatar
I hear you, Tom. It just seems like their ought to be a better way. I mean I think these recruiting firms are charging like it's still the era of the bubble.

I've heard people talk about a situation where people are mentored and move up based on a test plus a certain amount of time working with someone else (look up how someone becomes a Master Carpenter or a Meat Cutter, for instance). I'm not ready to go to that level.

It just seems like if a guy claims 10 years VB experience and can pass a VB test that someone who has 10 years experience should be able to pass then his experience is valid. If the guy doesn't know (for instance) what "Option Strict" does then his experience probably isn't that really valid (he may have the years, but his experience is seriously lacking). Also and I know this is a pain, but verbal tests are always better (you can watch the person think which makes it easy to say "he didn't get this one, but he knew this more advanced skill.")

Anyway, I'm starting the discussion... I think it needs to be discussed.

# re: Necessary Evil??

left by Tom Clarkson at 5/12/2008 12:20 AM Gravatar
Certainly it is a discussion worth having, but you have to be careful of solutions that are worse than the problem.

A few issues I can see:

A testing system will appeal to new developers with something to prove rather than experienced developers who already know they are good and don't want to waste time on tests. Hardly the ideal start for a system intended to help find the best developers.

It's difficult to create a standard test for more advanced levels of experience. You can probably filter out someone without even one year of real experience, but beyond that the new skills are in dealing with problems too complex to put on a resonable test.

Presumably the test will be an online one to get a reasonable level of adoption. What happens if you have google open in another window and search on the question text?

For the more complex questions, how do you decide on the right answer? At higher levels of experience you will be interested in things like code style, and some people have completely opposite ideas of what good code is.

I'm probably sounding a bit negative at this point, though that wasn't my intention. I'm not against the idea itself, but I'm interested to hear if you have solutions for the implementation issues that come up every time someone thinks of setting up something like this.

# re: Necessary Evil??

left by The Other Steve at 5/12/2008 10:51 AM Gravatar
It's not just permanent placement. Have you seen what some companies take for placing you on contract work? It's like 40% or more of the billable hourly rate.

And I thought I hated realtors for taking 6% of a house sale. This a ridiculous sum considering these guys really don't do anything.

# re: Necessary Evil??

left by Jacob at 5/12/2008 11:13 AM Gravatar
I've found Ask the Headhunter very enlightening, actually. Good blog with relevant information and a technology emphasis.

# re: Necessary Evil??

left by jack at 5/13/2008 11:39 AM Gravatar
Testing will only become valuable the day all corporations block access to the mighty Google, preventing people from looking up snippets/techninques/solutions/general knowledge in a efficient and cost effective manner.

# re: Necessary Evil??

left by Jay Kimble at 5/13/2008 11:51 AM Gravatar
Ok, guys,

I gotta say this. When I said testing I know I mentioned online tests, but it wasn't the only type of testing I would like to see in this.

How about verbal testing (where the person is asked a question that tests how much they know and not how much they have memorized)?

How about example testing? You know the kind where you take the candidate into a room and have them write something simple. You can't write the code you don't get passed.

Both of the above would remove the mighty google issue. I agree it's difficult, but truthfully I would rather a guy knows how to use Google efficiently to get answers than to have a"memorizer."

# re: Necessary Evil??

left by Rob at 5/16/2008 2:11 PM Gravatar
We got burned a few times by developers who were screened by various devs and answered questions pretty well, but when faced with actually coding, bombed completely.

The last two clients I've worked with decided it was time to introduce real code tests as part of the interview. The results were ****ed up, to say the least. Both code tests forced candidates to write actual, working code. The tasks were rediculously simply by any standard. However, fewer than 5% of the candidates even got close to completing the code tests, and less than 2% had passing results. And this is out of the candidates that even had steller resumes to begin with - the rest got screened out before even being contacted.

Sadly, it clearly illustrates the state of the worker pool out there :-(
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